When I was fifteen, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt my life would end at thirty. I didn’t have a death wish — at least not one any greater than your average teenager prone to fits of melodrama — but at that time in my life, the number thirty seemed so far away that I was certain that by the time I reached it, I would have done all the living I could possibly do and be ready to throw in the towel and go out on top. Trying to see past thirty was like trying to see the stars through the haze kicked up into the skies of big cities, the future obscured by a smog of uncertainty.
It’s funny how so often we are blind to our lives when looking forward, but everything seems so clear when we turn and look back, like we’re forever stuck on the wrong side of a two-way mirror, only seeing our reflection clearly. At fifteen I had no real idea what my life would be, though I certainly had definite plans. I would be a doctor, I would fall in love, I would get married, I would have kids (probably two), I would be successful, I would be happy. And I then I would reach thirty and I would be impossibly old.
It’s easy to dismiss most of the crazy notions I had when I was that girl, hardly more than a kid really, but here we are fifteen years later, and it would seem I’ve seen most of those teenaged plans come about and take on a life of their own. Of course, being older and wiser, I’m not surprised to see that most of them came about in ways I never could have envisioned back then: I am a doctor — of philosophy; I did fall in love and got married — to a man I wouldn’t know existed until nearly ten years later (and an American at that!); I don’t have kids, but I’ve got two dogs… What can I say — sometimes life works out better than you plan. Before I left on this round-the-world trip, I’d accomplished everything I had set out to do for myself, and while I’m working on redefining my definition of it, I would say that probably qualifies me as being successful. But for all the things that have worked out for me over the years, I have certainly experienced my fair share of those that haven’t, and although I’m sure fifteen-year-old Steph would be proud of the woman I’ve become and the life I’m leading, there are certainly parts of it that she never predicted and that didn’t go according to plan. There have been a lot of times in the intervening decade and a half when this hasn’t always been the case — the exact opposite, in fact — but today I can say that I am happy.
And today I am also thirty.
But I am not impossibly old.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, especially in the last six months since we set out to travel the world, it’s that nothing is impossible. I’m now twice the girl who made fixed and unwavering statements about what the future would hold, and know better than to even try. She never would have guessed I’d be greeting the “end of my life” in a hammock by a pool located in a tiny village in the wilds of Borneo.
There are worse ways to die, I suppose.
But, as proud as I am of what I’ve accomplished in the past fifteen years, I’m pretty sure the next fifteen will be even better. As it turns out, thirty is not the end, but just the beginning. I’ve still got a lot of living to do and there’s life in me yet and a whole undiscovered world out there in which to do it. As I reach the age of thirty, I’ve now set foot on 19 different countries, but I’m hoping very hard that come 31, the number of stamps in all my passports over the years will match my age.
So here’s to the past thirty years and the ones still to come; I can’t wait to see what I do with them.